City council called on to tidy up bylaw that governs messy lawns

City council will decide Tuesday whether it will look at pruning vague wording and other details in a London, Ont. property maintenance bylaw that critics say is outdated and confusing.

Some who want to embrace messier looking, wild and natural yards are more worried about being fined than having an environmentally friendly lawn, said Mary Ann Hodge, the co-founder of Climate Action London.

At last week’s Civic Works Committee meeting, the motion to review the Yard and Lot Maintenance bylaw failed 3 to 2.

In response, Hodge started a petition looking to change city council’s mind when it’s put to a final vote tomorrow. She said it got more than 200 signatures.

Left to right, Mary Ann Hodge, Ron Hill, and Heather Jerrard. Mary Ann started a petition to encourage city council to change their vote on Tuesday to review the Yard and Lot Maintenance by-law. (Alessio Donnini/CBC News)

“We need to make it more encouraging for people to [naturalize their yards] because we are in a climate emergency and this is an easy way for people to help,” she said.

The petition asks the city to clarify some of the bylaw’s definitions — like what it considers a “weed” or “grass” since they’re both extremely broad categories and can lead to mistakes.

Last year, Susan McKee got three tickets totalling $300 in cleanup, inspection and administration fees because city workers had to deal with “tall weeds and grass” when they mowed down her naturalized pollinator garden after someone filed a complaint.

“I’m afraid to put in any more perennials. Say I go away for a day or two and my neighbour complains, then the city may come in and cut it down,” McKee said.

The petition also wants the city to change the reporting process so that anyone who complains to municipal enforcement needs to be able to identify problem plants or health issues the garden could cause before an officer is sent out to talk to property owners.

woman in front of bushes
Susan McKee said she’s afraid to put in new perennials after city workers mistook her natural garden for “tall grass and weeds” and mowed it down last year. (Michelle Both/CBC)

People need to know more before action is taken

So far this year, only three of the 2,400 complaints based on the Yard and Lot Maintenance bylaws had to do with natural gardens or wildflower meadows, said Orest Katolyk, the director of municipal compliance for the City of London.

“No action has been taken by the city on those properties,” Katolyk said.

He said most of the complaints have to do with safety concerns for children on sidewalks.

“The grasses and flowers are so high in these gardens that it’s causing a visibility concern with lane ways and driveways,” he said.

The Civics Works Committee had discussed creating educational material for residents looking to either naturalize their yards or to make a complaint. 

That’s the direction the city needs to focus on before reviewing the bylaw, said Corrine Rahman, Ward 8 councillor, who voted against the motion last Tuesday.

“Part of helping city council and city staff to understand some of the concerns is by having folks have a conversation,” Rahman said. She added that she isn’t against reviewing the bylaw once those educational materials are public.

Corrine Rahman
Ward 7 councillor Corrine Rahman isn’t against reviewing the bylaw, she just wants the public to be educated about naturalized yards first. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

Sam Trosow, the Ward 6 councillor who put the original motion forward, said that experts he spoke with prefer that council focus on reviewing the bylaw.

“We are not putting any particular amendments on the table at this point. I think it’s important and I think there are enough members of the public that think it’s important,” Trosow said.

The city does regularly review all of its bylaws, and the head of compliance said this particular one could be reviewed more closely when the work is done later this year or early 2024, if council doesn’t vote on a review. 

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